This is going to be a long blog because I’ve got two days to tell you about and a lot’s been happening in those two days. And, I’m going to do a bit of bitching, so be prepared. I told you so!
We left our home in Edgewater, Florida a little before noon on Friday and had an easy run up Interstate 95 to Jacksonville, where we picked up interstate 10 and took it west to Beaver Lake Campground in Quincy. This is the same place we stayed when we evacuated for Hurricane Matthew back in October. I’m not sure where the lake part of it all comes in, because all it is is a big grass field with pull-through 30/50 amp RV sites.
We arrived a little after 5 p.m., parked and got the electric and water hooked up, relaxed for a few minutes, and then I decided to set my computer up. That’s when things started to go downhill. In packing the RV, I had brought out my desktop computer, monitor, wireless mouse, headphones for my Dragon Speak software, and thought I was good to go. It wasn’t until we got to Quincy that I realized I had neglected to bring along my wireless keyboard!
No problem, there was a super WalMart about 8 miles back down the highway, so we jumped in the Explorer and drove over there. I saw the same keyboard I’ve been using on a closeout sale for $17 instead of the usual $69 and grabbed it, complimenting myself on such a great savings. That is until we got back to the motorhome after stopping to get a bite to eat and discovered that the reason it was so cheap was because inside the box was a used mismatched mouse, the new keyboard, and a little gizmo you plug into a USB port to make it all work wirelessly. Which meant they didn’t work together at all. By then it was getting late and we were worn out so I just called Greg White and asked him if he could post something on my blog saying that we were having computer difficulties.
We were up bright and early the next morning, drove the last 174 miles across the Florida Panhandle and entered the great state of Alabama.
There’s not much to Alabama this far south, and before long we were on the causeway across Mobile Bay. Traffic was backed up and moving very slowly, though we never did figure out why since we never saw an accident or anything like that.
Mobile is kind of cool because as you’re heading west you see the skyline, then you enter a tunnel, and when you come out, the other side of the city is behind you.
Why do people always blow their horns in tunnels? I don’t know, but when the guy in the dark SUV in the left lane kept laying on his horn, I figured what the heck, and let them know what my motorhome’s air horns sound like. When I did that he stopped blowing his! I wonder if that would work with the kids when they pull up beside you with the big booming stereos that are so loud they make your teeth ache?
We rolled through what was left of Mobile but at about mile marker 20, things got real ugly. Terry said she smelled something like hot rubber, but since there were a bunch of cars going past us we assumed it was one of them. Then she said she smelled it again, a little stronger (I have very little sense of smell so I couldn’t detect it) and then suddenly the rear end of the coach dropped, we heard a loud whump, and it started vibrating strongly. I managed to get onto the very narrow shoulder of the highway, got out and went back, and noticed that the right inside dual wheel was off the rim and the whole rear end of the motorhome was sitting really low.
I called CoachNet, the roadside service company we have had for over 14 years, explained the problem and told them I needed a tow truck. The woman on the phone said they would send someone out to change the tire and we would be back on the road soon. I replied that it was more than just the tire, something else was wrong because the back of the coach was so low it was sitting on the dual wheels. She insisted that they first had to send out a tire repair shop. That took five hours.
I realize it was a Sunday, and it takes a while for them to find somebody with a tire in our size capable of changing it alongside the road. I could live with that. But I sure wanted him there faster if possible, since the shoulder of the road was very narrow, the grass beside it sloping down sharply and very soft, and we were only inches away from the white line where traffic was zipping by us at 70+ miles per hour.
Eventually the tire repair fellow showed up, took off the blown tire, which had lost the entire sidewall, and put on a new tire, but the rear end of the coach was still sitting low.
He suggested I drive it to the next exit, which was just a mile or so away, and he would follow me. We did, stopping in a large parking lot, where he checked everything out, and said he really didn’t know what else to do or tell me, and left.
We were in a WalMart parking lot, and I should have stayed there, but when I called CoachNet, they said their in-house RV tech said the rig probably just need to air up some more. So like fools, we took off again. As soon as we got back on Interstate 10 I knew that we had a big problem. The coach was vibrating so badly that I could hardly hold it on the road. I got it over onto the narrow shoulder once again and called CoachNet again and told them I needed a tow truck. The girl said they would have a mobile service person to me within half an hour. I told her that wasn’t going to do the trick, that I needed a tow truck, and she said she would get right back to me.
A couple of hours later, a tech from CoachNet called to say a roadside service fellow would be there within 90 minutes. I told him (once again) that we needed a tow, but he said there were no tow trucks available in the area that could tow a rig our size. Isn’t that why we have a dedicated RV roadside service company? So they will be able to get someone capable of taking care of our 40 foot motorhome for us?
The 90 minutes came and went, and then another half hour or so, and I called back to once again tell them I needed a wrecker capable of towing us, and that their roadside tech had not made it. I can’t remember exactly how many times I called, or how many times CoachNet assured me someone would be there anytime now, but it went on and on. I kept telling them that we were in a very dangerous location, it was getting dark, and we needed help now. I finally talked to a supervisor who assured me she would call the police and have an officer come by to park behind us with his flashers on until the service man got there. She told me she would call me back within a few minutes with an update. Two hours later I called CoachNet again. By then it was dark, traffic was passing us with maybe a foot to spare, and I demanded to know why the police had not arrived as promised, nor had the service tech, and why the supervisor had not called back as promised. And again I demanded a tow truck. I was told the supervisor didn’t call me back because first they had to “coordinate” with their own team, whatever the hell that means. About then, the roadside tech who was supposed to be there two or three hours earlier called and said he was tied up on another call across the state line in Mississippi and was at least two hours away!
Finally two police officers did come by and saw us and stopped to ask if we needed any help. I told them my tale of woe and they helped me put out emergency triangles, and promised to stand by as long as they could. They also said we were in a very dangerous area with a lot of transient camps in the woods on the side of the road there. One of them suggested that if they did have to leave before help arrived for us, I get a gun out if I had one. They also said there was absolute no reason CoachNet could not have gotten us a flatbed tow truck hours before that, because there were several available in the Mobile area. One of the officers said it was because roadside service companies always want to get by the cheapest way they can, and it’s cheaper for them to pay for a roadside service tech to come out than to spend a couple of thousand dollars towing a big rig. They also acknowledged that no one from CoachNet had called them about us.
About 11 o’clock the roadside service tech did arrive, a nice young man named Travis, who worked on the rig for a couple of hours. In the process he also told me that his shop was only a couple of miles away, and that all day long they had service techs there who could have come to help us out long before that. It was only late in the evening that they started getting really busy.
Travis finally managed to figure out a way to air the rear of the coach up enough that we could move it, and driving slowly with him in front of me in his service truck and Terry behind me in the Explorer with the emergency flashers on, we managed to get off the highway and to their shop, where we parked it for the night. It was a very rough couple of miles to get there, and I feared we were doing even more damage to the RV.
It was after 1:30 AM when we got to the shop, and just before 7 AM the next morning (yesterday) a mechanic was knocking on our door to say they were ready to have me back the motorhome into the shop. I cannot say enough good about Truckers 24 Hour Road Service and Shop in Theodore, Alabama. They are absolute professionals. They diagnosed the problem as a complete failure of the air system in the rear of the coach, causing it to drop down onto the tires, which blew the one tire and in the process it took out the airbag. They rebuilt the leveling system with new parts, sent somebody all the way to Gulfport, Mississippi for a new airbag, and had us out of the shop and ready to roll by about 2:30 in the afternoon.
Their mechanic and the supervisor I talked to both agreed with the policeman and Travis, their roadside service man, in saying that there was no reason for us to have sat in such a dangerous situation for so long. They said that if CoachNet would have called them back around noon on Sunday when we first had the problem, they would have had us at their shop within an hour or so. We still would not have gotten on the road any sooner because they had to go get parts, but we would have been out of danger. And they agreed with the police officers, saying that the only reason this happened was that CoachNet, and every other roadside service company out there, always wants to get by on the cheap instead of spending the money to take care of the customer right the first time around.
All in all, we sat on the edge of the highway for well over 12 hours, and I’m pissed. That’s the only way to describe it. CoachNet completely ignored my repeated calls for a tow truck. They failed to call back when promised. They failed to dispatch police as promised. In all the years that we have published the Gypsy Journal, and in the hundreds of seminars I have given at RV rallies coast to coast, and at all the classes I taught at Life on Wheels, I have always said CoachNet was the company to have for your roadside service company. Never again! When our contract with them expires I will find somebody else. And I will do everything I can to tell every RVer I know or that I meet that this company only cares about saving money.
There’s an old saying in the newspaper business – never fight with a man who buys his ink by the barrel. Especially a grouchy old curmudgeon like me. Please feel free to share this blog with every RVer you know. Maybe when it starts hitting companies like this in the pocketbook, they will realize that customer service is what it’s all about.
Congratulations Sherri Frost, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Mountain Angel by Suzie O’Connell. We had 64 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.
Thought For The Day – Some days, you’re the top dog, some days you’re the fire hydrant.